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IPSA blog > Posts > IPSA Chair Sir Ian Kennedy: Some people just still don’t get it
 

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March 24
IPSA Chair Sir Ian Kennedy: Some people just still don’t get it

​Over the last few days we have seen, yet again, that rational thought and fact plays second fiddle to overblown rhetoric in the discussion of MPs’ costs and expenses.

The latest hysteria is about a ‘fresh row’ because MPs are trying to comply with Health and Safety regulations. In particular, if a member of staff has to use a computer screen a great deal, then Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, states they can claim for the cost of an eye test. And if as a result of the test the optician believes glasses are needed for screen work, then help in paying for glasses, too. In this area there are regulations all employers should follow and yet when it comes to MPs doing so – we are encouraged to be outraged.

This latest noise is indicative of a wider problem, where context or facts are displaced in favour of excitement and hyperbole.

So, let’s just remind ourselves of some facts.

•         In the wake of the expenses scandal, IPSA overhauled the system which governs how MPs can use public funds.
•         Following public consultation we introduced clear rules and budgets.
•         We banned and put safeguards around the practices from the past which caused most outrage.
•         MPs can no longer claim for a second mortgage.
•         Where they choose to employ a family member, they have to be employed on a legal contract and we publish the name and salary band of the individual concerned.
•         There is genuine transparency – we have published every claim made by every MP.
•         And the changes we have introduced have saved the taxpayer a huge sum of money – over £35m in four years.
But despite the huge progress made in a short period of time, some still try to promote hysteria about MPs incurring business costs.

I have heard MPs receive criticism for their stationery bills (it is standard for employers to provide paper, ink, staplers etc, but some suggest MPs should be treated differently), for travelling (even though they work in two locations – their constituency and Westminster), and even for having a website developed (there are very few organisations which don’t have one and which don’t need some expertise to help develop one).

And when I look at this sort of reaction, I am struck about the behaviour not of MPs, but of those commentators concerned. Some appear determined to manufacture ‘outrage’.

These monies are not a top up to an MP’s income. It is money which is properly incurred in the course of business and which is being properly accounted for.

I think it is time to grow up. It is absolutely right that we have rules and restrictions and transparency around the costs MPs incur – exactly as IPSA introduced - but it is also right that people realise that there is a cost of having someone represent us in Parliament. The alternatives are that MPs are unable to carry out their duties as we, or they, would wish, or that we have a Parliament packed full of those who are rich enough to bankroll everything themselves. I cannot believe either of those outcomes is desirable.

I do hope we are able to move to a more mature, constructive discussion of costs and expenses and leave behind those determined to work themselves into lather.

Comments

Sir Ian Kennedy still does'nt get it

It is difficult too know where to start in dealing with the patronising messages coming from Sir Ian Kennedy. One would think he is beginning to feel that he is not appreciated.

IPSA appears to have two goals: to sort out the expense system for MPs and to restore the reputation of Parliament. Now, it looks as though expenses have been sorted out to some extent. At a cost of £6.4m annually, plus £955K each year for FOI work, MPs expenses are being regulated. It is unfortunate that  Sir Ian feels that those outside his Westminster bubble may not question expense payments to MPs. If MPs were generally an honest group of people we would not need such a costly expenses operation as IPSA. IPSA exists because MPs are, in the main, unable to make expense claims honestly. In the cases of the claims for glasses Sir Ian seems to think that "we", those who remain deeply suspicious of MPs, do not understand the HMRC and H&S regulations in this area. I do. I know that the glasses prescribed for VDU ( computer screen) users following eye tests are for VDU use only. They are often called "intermediate prescriptions" . However, the cost of such glasses is usually modest and less than £100 in most cases. So why do we see multiple claims over£300? Why can't that question be asked? Many current MPs are the ones who were over-claiming an average, tax-free, inflation- adjusted £18,400 annually, pre-IPSA. Why should we assume that MPs have ceased to try to work the system? Does Sir Ian believe that the employment of MPs' family members in their offices and MPs' "consultancy" dealings would withstand reasonable scrutiny?

The problem, and consequently the patronising tone of Sir Ian's messages, seems to lie in Sir Ian's role to restore the reputation of Parliament. Many of "us" lost confidence in Parliament when "we" found out how many and to what extent MPs were cheating "us". That loss went to "our" estimate of how much we could trust "our" MPs. Sir Ian wishes "us" to forget the expenses scandal, forgive our MPs and assume they are all working honestly and with integrity on our behalf. Sir Ian is the one who should grow up: if MPs have become honest why not dissolve IPSA tomorrow, rely on MPs to submit honest expense claims within the new rules and save the bulk of IPSA's £6.4m budget?

The other concern some people may have is the astonishing decision IPSA took to increase MPs' pay by 11%. Why should MPs receive a payrise when much of their work is now done in Brussells, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh, that is in the EU and our national assemblies? Why hasn't some of the cost of MEPs, MSPs and AMs pay been deducted from MPs pay? Can Sir Ian explain why there is a subsidy of about £5m annually for MPs' food and drink in the House?

The pay and expenses system for MPs appears over-generous. Given MPs history of dishonesty in relation to expenses Sir Ian should expect continuing scepticism from those outside Parliament's privileged bubble. Sir Ian will have to work very hard indeed to restore Parliament's reputation. He won't do it by giving MPs a massive payrise when everyone else is losing out in real terms nor by being patronising to those who disagree with his comfortable view of the standards in Parliament.
 on 3/24/2014 2:34 PM

Spot on

Jesus, thank God someone's got the balls to say this.

Sir Ian is right. The manufactured outrage is tiresome and frankly after the actual expenses scandal was about duck houses and moat cleaning, stories about eye tests for MP's staff (after suffering problems at work) are tedious in the extreme.

It is time to grow up.
 on 3/25/2014 1:10 PM

Glasses

It would be no surprise if some of the claims for glasses for MPs' staff were actually specs for family and friends of MPs, a group often comprising an MP's staff. There would be no direct cash gain but clear benefits to an
MP and his or her personal network - that is what Parliament is all about after all.

The Legg report into MPs expenses showed that 52% of MPs at minimum were over-claiming. So it is more likely than not that an MP would over-claim if they could. There are few ways to hold MPs to account so continuing scepticism and questioning over expenses is worth the effort. It is no surprise that MPs have decided not to legislate to introduce a recall system for MPs whose conduct is brought into question.

Sir Ian has, as IPSA chair, an interest in convincing us that the expenses scandal was not the visible tip of an iceberg of corruption in Parliament.
 on 3/26/2014 9:53 AM

GEORGE OSBORNES PADDOCK FRAUD

How can we possibly have any faith in IPSA when they refused to investigate George Osbornes fraudulent expenses claims for paddocks that he claimed for, that were different parcels of land to the property and he lied and said they were as one?  Quite simple to investigate by downloading a plan off Land Registry and checking it against his claim, yet IPSA didn't appear to have a clue and made excuses and refused to act on this fraudulent transaction.
 on 3/26/2014 10:12 AM

Really?

Sir Ian's comments shows IPSA for what it is. An organ designed to make people believe our Parliament and it's members are working on the behalf of the nation's people. In fact, there's nothing independent about IPSA. Sir Ian and his little band of employees are ancious not to rock the boat. Pitiful!
 on 3/26/2014 12:40 PM

IPSA IS JUST A COVER UP DEPT FOR THE REAL BENEFIT SCROUNGERS = MP's

I agree, this shows him to be nothing but the usual run of the mill  'yes man', a puppet for the fraudsters and the biggest benefit scroungers in the country that we all know as MPs. If Ian goes against the grain he knows he'll be out of a job and he wouldn't want to bite the trotter that feeds him would he?  IPSA is just the cover up arm of the corrupt MPs that rip us all off for every penny and get away with it, because they are too thick to download land registry plans and check them against expenses claims, too thick or just plain corrupt, either should mean they are investigated themselves and sacked. But it's another case of "we're all in it together" and IPSA is only in existence to give the impression they are protecting the public, when the public can see right through that lie and see exactly who they are protecting and it isn't the public.
 on 3/26/2014 6:52 PM

Money for nothing and the specs are free

Ask IPSA what they are doing to check expenses: you'll find it is nominal. If a claim fits an allowed expense category IPSA will pay it. IPSA assume MPs are honest and say that MPs are responsible for claiming within the rules. We know, from the Legg report, that 52% of MPs at minimum will over-claim if they can and we know that over a quarter of MPs employ family members. So MPs could be using staffing budgets to buy goods snd services for the personal use of family members. IPSA will not be checking.


There is a Compliance Office but they do not check anything unless asked to do so. So nobody at IPSA is working on the basis that MPs are likely to fiddle expenses. What IPSA is doing with the GBP6.4m annual budget is a mystery.

MPs receive more than GBP5m in annual food and drink subsidy because the catering makes a loss too. The annual subsidy is over GBP11,000 per MP at GBP7.3m.

So thank you to the papers that keep raising MPs expenses - noone else is studying what MPs are up to.
 on 4/2/2014 10:10 AM

See Sir Ian - you don't get it!

Maria Miller's attitude to the Standards Commissioners, the dilution of their recommendations by the MPs in the Standards Committe, Jeremy
Hunt's support for Miller in the Chamber and Cameron's pre-emptive support for Miller before the report came out all make clear the true, current attitude of MPs to expenses. Sir Ian cannot maintain his posture that all is now well without appearing naive.
 on 4/3/2014 8:25 PM

Special Exemptions for MPs

Amongst the hype and hyperbole is the unmistakable fact that MPs are able to vote themselves special allowances and treatment.

MPs should be beholden to the same expenses and benefits rules that the rest of us have to live by - as detailed in HMRC Booklets 480 and 490

There is no excuse for any additional exemptions.

MM is alleged to have "accidentally" over-claimed for her mortgage interest... but why is she allowed to claim it in the first place? If I did, Hector the Inspector would have a field day.
 on 4/5/2014 10:32 AM

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